Stores like Walmart, Lowe's, and J.Crew have a new nightmare for Black Friday - and it signals a fundamental shift in how we shop
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- Walmart, Lowe's, and J.Crew are just a few of the retailers dealing with technical difficulties this Black Friday.
- Shoppers encountered glitching and crashing websites on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday as the holiday shopping season kicked off.
- The core problem seems to be that many retailers were unprepared for the increased traffic, as online shopping numbers hit record highs.
- Website outages hurt brands' reputations and can result in millions of dollars in lost sales in a matter of minutes.
There's a new Grinch in town this holiday shopping season.
Retailers' Black Friday shopping nightmares are no longer simply overcrowded stores or running out of stock. Instead, there is a new fear to keep executives up at night in the days leading up to Thanksgiving: websites crashing.
One after another, major retailers faced tech issues as they kicked off Black Friday sales.
Lululemon's website crashed soon after the company kicked off its Black Friday sales on Thursday morning. Later in the day, makeup-seller Ulta's website crashed because of high traffic. UK-based brands were not immune to technical difficulties, with JD Sports and Game crashing on Thursday evening.
Troubles continued on Black Friday. J. Crew's website encountered technical difficulties due to high demand. Lowe's website was down for many customers mid-day on Friday. It was difficult or impossible for Hollister shoppers to check out online. And, a deal from Cards Against Humanity drove too many people to Applebee's website, which briefly crashed.
Applebee's aside, the reason for all these crashes is relatively straightforward. More people are shopping online on Black Friday, and they are beginning their shopping sprees earlier than ever.
Online shopping spend is expected to grow 33% compared to 2017, according to GlobalData Retail. For comparison, in-store sales are also expected to increase - but only by 1.9%.
Shoppers spent $2.4 billion online on Wednesday, a whopping 31.8% increase from 2017, according to Adobe Analytics data. Thanksgiving Day online sales hit $3.7 billion, 28% growth year over year. Black Friday is shaping up to be similarly impressive, with online sales reaching $643 million as of 10 a.m. ET, an increase of 27.8%.
While shoppers spending more is a boon for retailers, an inability to handle traffic can turn a holiday shopping dream into a nightmare.
"It's easy to go to a different site and spend their holiday money elsewhere," Bob Buffone, chief technology officer at web-optimization software company Yottaa, told Business Inside on Thursday.
"Depending on how long the site is down, it can cost retailers a lot of money and also result in damage to the brand as shoppers take to social media to express their frustration," Buffone continued.
For example, Walmart's technical issues impacted an estimated 3.6 million potential shoppers, according to LovetheSales.com analysis. The retail aggregator estimates that the tech problems, which lasted about 150 minutes, cost the retailer an estimated $9 million in lost sales.
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